(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Fisheries Scientist Bill Goldsborough issued this statement following the release of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) menhaden stock assessment yesterday. Already, industry-backed groups are suggesting that harvest restrictions imposed in 2012 were unnecessary.
"We would like to commend the new ASMFC menhaden stock assessment as being good, solid science. A noteworthy change from previous assessments is the assumption that large, older menhaden exist in northern waters outside the range of the fishery. With this assumption, it is no surprise that the assessment model found that population biomass levels were up. This finding also tends to drive down the estimated percentage of the population being harvested.
"The assessment also found, however, that overall abundance is at levels lower than when the fishery was declared overfished in the 1960s. That is significant because it means there are low numbers of menhaden available as prey for other fish, marine mammals, and sea birds.
"It is important to recognize that this is a "single-species assessment" that does not account for the critical role menhaden play as a food source for those other species, some of which support important fisheries themselves. ASMFC has committed to accounting for this key role, and when that is taken into consideration it will have the effect of leaving more menhaden in the water for other species. That is the next order of business for the Commission.
"It is also important to note that, here in the Chesapeake Bay region, the reproductive success of the menhaden population has been poor for the last 20 years, so the numbers of juvenile menhaden that are so important to the Bay's rockfish are still down. Those rockfish are still suffering from elevated mortality due to a bacterial infection that has been linked to poor nutrition."